Photo of the Day

A picture of the Luetgert factory featured inside a company paperweight. (Courtesy of Jim Luetgert.)

Unable to Dissolve his Marriage

He Decided to Dissolve his Wife

 The Sausage King of Chicago was accused of killing his wife and selling the meat to unsuspecting customers

One of the earliest usages of forensic testimony that concluded the bone fragments belonged to a human female

One of the most bizarre murders in Chicago history was the “Sausage Vat Murder. ‘ Louisa Luetgert, the wife of sausage maker, Adolph Louis Luetgert, disappeared on May 1, 1897. Adolph told his children that their mother had gone to visit her sister on the previous night but never came back. After a few days, The Sausage King went to the police to report her disappearance. Luetgert then claimed to the police that she ran away with another man.

This case was one of the first trials widely covered by the media. Newspapers from Chicago would report on it daily and some of them would try to eavesdrop on the jury deliberation. At the time, the case was called the celebrity case and is credited with putting murder trials in the media. This case also was one of the first to use forensic experts to solve a crime.

Today, the factory still stands on the south side of the 1700 block of West Diversey Parkway; however, it has been converted into condominiums similar to the other town homes and condominiums which now are beside it.

Adolph Louis Luetgert, king of the sausage making industry, was the object of talk and speculation for years. His unique personality, his queer habits, his half wild dogs. his giant stature, and the millions of pounds of sausage that were carted away from his great factory at Diversey and Hermitage avenues made the Germans and Poles of his neighbourhood call him a king.

They gave him a wide berth when he went along the sidewalk with his Great Dane dogs panting after him. When he spoke to them they pulled off their hats. He employed more men than any one for almost a mile around, and the neighbourhood looked on his factory as the place where all the money in circulation originated.

Millions of pounds of sausage were carted away from the huge brick buildings and sent all over the country, and the people about the factory conceived wild ideas of Luetgert’s wealth. It was told around that he was a millionaire. His wealth was piling tip so fast he did not know where to put it, they said.

These people never had heard that Luetgert put every cent he owned into his big plant and that he had borrowed money to complete it. The Polish and German laborers in the neighborhood did not know that to sell millions of pounds of sausages requires thousands of dollars of capital.

Luetgert built the best house in the neighborhood, but no one appeared to envy his wife. Luetgert’s employees noticed that in spite of the domestics who worked at the house Mrs. Luetgert tolled early and late and spent little of her husband s earnings. She saved with him that his business might prosper.

During the twenty years since Luetgert and Louise Bicknese were married in St. John’s Lutheran Church, La Salle Avenue and Ohio Street, where her gold wedding ring was first worn, Mrs. Luetgert had toiled with her husband and had planned with him. Luetgert was a prosperous saloon-keeper when they were wedded, and Louise Bicknese was a pretty German domestic, who knew scarcely a word of English.

Adolph Luetgert

Adolph Luetgert, 52 years old, was a bull of a man, 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds, with immense shoulders and great rolls of fat on the back of his neck bearing testimony to an insatiable appetite for food and drink.

Louisa Bicknese was an attractive young woman who was ten years younger than her husband. She wore her long blond hair done up in a bun to make her appear taller, a single ringlet hanging coyly upon her forehead. She was a former servant from the Fox River Valley who met her new husband by chance. He was immediately taken with her, entranced by her diminutive stature and tiny frame. She was less than five feet tall and looked almost child-like next to her burly husband. As a wedding gift, he gave her a unique, heavy gold ring. Inside of it, he had gotten her new initials inscribed, reading “L.L.”. Little did he know at the time that this ring would prove to be his undoing.

She was Adolph’s second wife. The first one had died.

Luetgert, a tanner by trade, came over from his native Germany with his first wife as Chicago was rebuilding from the Great Fire of 1871. He liked to recall, in later years after becoming a successful businessman that he arrived in town with only three cents in his pocket.

He worked briefly in local tanneries, and then in 1872, at age 27, opened a grocery and saloon at Clybourn and Webster Avenues on the Near Northwest Side. Here Luetgert had his first brush with the law–an incident that would in later years set police to thinking about the inner workings of this man’s mind.

It was 1879, and a neighborhood née-do-well named Hugh McGowan was found lying dead in the alley behind Luetgert’s modest shop. He appeared to have been in a fight, but closer examination revealed that a thick wad of chewing tobacco had been forced down the man’s throat, causing him to suffocate. Police suspected the ill-tempered Luetgert and took him in for questioning. He denied any knowledge of McGowan’s demise, and no charges ever were brought. But the incident brought Luetgert to the attention of authorities, who marked him as a man who bore watching. What police figured had happened but couldn’t prove was this:

The uncouth McGowan, a loafer who hung around saloons in the neighborhoods north of the Irish settlement on Goose Island along the north branch of the Chicago River, might have spit a blob of tobacco juice onto the freshly swept floor of Luetgert’s tavern.

Luetgert probably thundered something like, “Hey! You do that one more time and, by Gott, I will ram that tobacco right down your throat.”

It would have been right in character for the Irish McGowan to call the saloonkeeper’s bluff. And a man of Luetgert’s known temperament could have been relied upon to carry out the threat. Police believed that the giant Luetgert clamped an armlock on McGowan’s neck with one hand and with his other literally jammed the tobacco plug down the unfortunate customer’s windpipe. Then, as the bug-eyed McGowan clutched wildly at his throat, Luetgert booted him out the back door, where he tumbled into the alley, rolled over and died. If that is indeed what transpired, the innkeeper, with only a moment’s malice aforethought, had committed the perfect crime. And the fact that police were unable to pin it on him could well have inspired him, 18 years later, to indulge in a far more heinous experiment.

However McGowan met his death, the bizarre incident had little effect on Luetgerts business, except that from that day on customers undoubtedly took better aim at his spittoons.

Two years later, in 1881, Luetgert’s wife died unexpectedly while in confinement awaiting childbirth. There was a bit of neighbourhood rumbling at the time about poor Mrs. Luetgert’s untimely death, but nothing more came of it.

Not long afterward, Luetgert sold his saloon and opened a small sausage factory at North Avenue and Clybourn.

Louise Luetgert

Adolph, it’s so lonely out here, she complained. All right, my dear, he said dutifully. Then we’ll move back to Chicago.

Back in town, where he could devote more attention to his business, Adolph prospered. Luetgert’s wieners, thuringer, bratwurst and liver sausage became known for miles around, and he began to think beyond the boundaries of Chicago’s Near Northwest Side. In 1894 he invested $141,000 in a new five-story plant adjoining the Chicago & North Western railway siding at Hermitage Avenue and Diversey Parkway, several miles northwest of his original shop. Next door to the sausage works, on Hermitage, he erected a great three- story home, where he would live with Louisa and their two young sons, Elmer and Louis. “I could become Sausage King of the World,” Luetgert dreamed aloud as the profits poured in.

To do this, he realized, he would need more capital, a delivery network to get his product to other cities and marketing experts to place Luetgert sausages in butchers display cases across the land. He could no longer be a one-man operation. To achieve his goal Luetgert, with the help of two other investors, set about early in 1897 to create a $500,000 corporation. One partner was William Charles, an old and trusted friend. The other was a London promoter named Robert Davy, who was living in the opulent new Lexington Hotel on South Michigan Avenue (the future headquarters of the yet-unborn Al Capone).

There is little doubt that Luetgert’s association with Davy led, at least in part, to the sausage maker’s financial downfall. Newspapers of the day would later refer to the smooth-talking Londoner as a naive.

During the year of the World’s Fair Luetgert cleared $75,000 from his sausage business. At that time he was reputed to be worth about $300.000. Mrs. Luetgert, it is said, never ceased to chide her husband for putting all his savings in the plant, even when profits piled up with dazzling swiftness.

When Luetgert bounded into his great business he also bounded into popularity in the neighborhood. He was pointed out as the most prosperous German in the northwestern part of the city, who had made all his money in fifteen years. and as he relaxed from his frugal habits he found plenty of friends willing to help him relax still more. His popularity was not confined to his own sex.

The Luetgert home. Chicago Inter Ocean, May 19, 1897.

Luetgert’s first sausage factory on North Avenue. From A Business Tour of Chicago.

Louisa, meanwhile, was little imbued with her husband’s ambition to become Sausage maker to the World. “We have a comfortable home and money enough,” she argued. “Adolph, why can’t you leave things as they are?”

Her nagging led to angry words, and the neighbours along Hermitage soon got an unsolicited view of Adolph Luetgert’s violent temper. Talk was that he actually beat Louisa and more than once drove her from their home into the street.

Mrs. Luetgert, with the most comfortable house for a mile around, was not envied, however. When she saw the change In her husband’s habits she fretted and chided, till Luetgert finally went to live among his dogs in the factory. He fitted up a sleeping-room in his office, and his bulky frame never was seen in the house except at meal times.

Luetgert had invested practically every penny he and his wife saved in his sausage plant. He borrowed almost as much more to complete it, and as most of his business was done on credit, when the hard times came he had no capital with which to go on. When he was obliged to borrow right and left, Mrs. Luetgert lost no chance to remind him that if he had followed her advice he would have been all right.

His one-room apartment contained a bed, chest of drawers and a shelf well stocked with liquor.

It became common knowledge around the neighbourhood that the middle-aged businessman was hardly living the life of a hermit, however. The Luetgerts young servant girl, Mary Simerling, was seen slipping furtively into his office-bedroom late at night. He also entertained Mrs. Christine Feldt, a wealthy widow, to whom he referred in love notes as “my beloved Christine.” Other women, too, were known to have made nocturnal visits to Luetgert`s private quarters. Of course, no one observed them too closely, thanks to several slavering Great Danes the sausage maker employed to patrol his factory. In the spring Luetgert shut down the plant in preparation for the costly renovation he hoped would launch his worldwide operation. That April, however, Foreman Brothers, an investment firm, foreclosed on a $30,000 mortgage on grounds that the grandiose plan was too far-fetched. That led to the collapse of financial negotiations with New York City banks and of Adolph Luetgert’s bold and fanciful dream.

His sharp-tongued wife’s “I warned you, Adolph” were hardly the comforting words he needed to hear when his world caved in. While the proud Louisa might have been able to overlook her husband’s philandering with the kitchen maid, the wealthy widow and untold others, she was not prepared to face the public humiliation that might come with financial downfall. Taunting him for his foolhardiness and threatening to take the children and leave, Louisa vowed: “If I have to, I will go back out into the country and work again as a servant. I will not have people pointing their fingers at me in scorn.”

When profits ceased to pile up Mrs. Luctgert’s scoldings and the family jars increased. Mary Siemering had in the meantime come to live with the Luetgerts and Luetgert’s fondness for her, it is said increased the bitterness between him and his wife.

Luetgert’a employees at the factory were in the main Poles and Germans, most of them unable to speak English. The grocery and retail market which were run in connection with the sausage factory, however, gave employment to a number of intelligent men, among them Fred Mlller, Mrs. Luetgert’s nephew.

Financial ruin stared Luetgert In the face by the middle of April. The sausage maker and his wife saw that the factory was almost certain to pass into the hands of the Sheriff, for notes were falling due; there was no income to pay them from. The butchers and market men who were in Luetgert’s debt were unable to help him out of difficulty in the hard times. Mrs. Luetgert who had seen her advice thrown to the winds, and her dire predictions all come true, lost no opportunity to scold her husband for his folly. The reports of the Luetgert family disturbances increased throughout the neighborhood and were the object of many conferences among Mrs. Luetgert’s relatives.

Luetgert’s social habits,in which, it was said, his wife was not included, were believed to be at the bottom of all the difficulty. His friendship for Christine Feldt, Mary Siemering, and Mrs. Agatha Tosch, it is said, had changed his wife into a perpetual scold.

During the last week of March, just before the shutdown, Luetgert had accepted delivery at the plant of 375 pounds of crude potash and 50 pounds of arsenic.

On the night of April 30, 1897, for some inexplicable reason, he called one Frank Oderoffsky, a plant employee known as “Smokehouse Frank,” to the plant and ordered him to break up the mixture and toss it into the middle one of three large sausage vats in the factory basement. “And don’t get it on your hands. It will give you a bad burn,” he cautioned.

The boiler room. Chicago Daily News, Sept. 4, 1897 (from a photograph by Melander Brothers).

The next evening, after the servant girl had left his factory bedroom and returned to her own quarters, Luetgert took a lantern and lumbered down into the dank cellar where he fired up the furnace and turned on the steam to melt the compound in the vat. Then, around 10 p.m., he headed over to the house to talk to his wife.

Elmer, the 5-year-old, was already in bed, and Louis, 12, had just returned home from the circus.

Louisa had sat huddled in a brown flannel wrapper with red and white dots, waiting for the boy to come home. She had pulled a gray shawl about her shoulders and wore leather-soled cloth slippers over woolen stockings.

“Well, was the circus worth the 10 cents?” she inquired as the boy burst excitedly into the room.

“It was worth more than that, Ma!” he bubbled. “There was even . . . .”

The wide-eyed youngster had just started to regale his mother with details of the wondrous evening when his father came through the kitchen door, lantern in hand.

“You can tell her about the circus in the morning,” he said sternly.

“It`s after 10 o’clock. You get to bed now.”

“Yes, Pa,” Louis said, obediently heading for his upstairs room.

Before the boy drifted off to sleep, he heard a tramping on the porch stairs and thought he heard someone go out. Later he heard a “rustling noise” in the dining room or kitchen. He remembered calling out, “Is that you, Pa?” A female voice answered, “No, it`s me.”

Was it a dream? Louis couldn’t be sure. But the next morning when he got up eager to tell his mother about the circus, she was nowhere to be found.

He and Elmer were looking around the kitchen for something to eat when their father came in around 10 a.m. to make his own breakfast.

“Pa, where’s Ma?” Louis asked curiously. “She isn’t in the house.”

“She’s gone to visit your aunt,” he mumbled, gruffly brushing aside further inquiries. He ate in silence and then returned to the plant, leaving his two young sons alone in the big house.

The boys waited, but their Mother did not come home …ever.

If their father was not worried about their mother’s well-being, Louis and Elmer were. Spurned by her husband, Louisa had become ever closer to her sons, doting over their every move. Without her, they were lost.

After several days, the whimpering youngsters began making the rounds of the neighborhood. They wandered pathetically from door to door, asking, “Have you seen our Ma?”

The Germanic Nordwest Seite soon was abuzz with gossip. “Louisa Luetgert, the sausage maker’s wife, has disappeared . . . .”

A typical day for Luetgert. Chicago Daily News, Sept. 25, 1897.

In a futile effort to put an end to the tongue-wagging, Luetgert hitched up his carriage on Friday afternoon, May 7, and drove over to the Sheffield Avenue station to report his wife missing. Police remembered the one-time saloonkeeper from the tobacco-plug homicide some years before and directed him to Capt. Herman Schuettler, commander of the afternoon shift.

Schuettler was inwardly curious as to why the husband had waited six days before going to authorities. Displaying no emotion that might betray any suspicion, the captain listened intently to the husband’s story and then assured him, “Go home to your boys, Mr. Luetgert. We will look into it.”

Luetgert had no sooner left the station than Schuettler called in a team of detectives and, twirling one end of his lush handlebar mustache, ordered,

“Find out all you can about that bird and his domestic situation.”

Nineteenth-Century police work was not unlike today’s in one respect–old-fashioned legwork. Phase one of the investigation involved knocking on doors, talking to neighbors and seeking out friends and relatives of the missing woman. The ongoing family spats were confirmed by the missing woman’s brother, Diedrich Becknese, who went one step farther. I am convinced,” he confided to police, “that Louisa has been murdered.

Various neighbors added to the tales of domestic strife in the Luetgert home. They commented that the sullen-faced sausage maker did not seem particularly upset when his wife failed to come home–if she ever left in the first place.

Louisa was hardly of a mind to run off without telling anyone, according to Mrs. Mollie Kaiser, who lived nearby. “Why, I was over at the Luetgert house last Saturday night while Louis was at the circus,” she told police.

Louisa seemed all right to me. We had a cheerful talk, said Emma Schimpke, who lived across the street from the Luetgerts, recalled looking out her window Saturday night and seeing Adolph with a lantern, his wife at his side, walking toward the sausage plant.

Her observation was corroborated by a workman, Nicholas Faber, who said he was hiking over to Luetgert`s house Saturday night to ask for a job when he saw the couple heading in the direction of the factory.

“Are you sure the woman you saw was Louisa Luetgert?” he was asked.

“Oh, yes. The little lady was bare-headed.”

Why would Mrs. Luetgert have gone over to the factory with her husband?

She was obviously unwelcome. As a matter of fact, he had even gone so far as to post a sign over the door to his quarters warning: “This Room for Mr. Luetgert Only.” If they had something to talk over, they surely could have done it in the comfort of their home. Perhaps, police surmised, Luetgert coaxed her over to the idled sausage works to show her something in connection with his future plans–or perhaps even with a promise to renew their romance. At any rate, he had gone to unusual lengths to make sure he would be alone with her. Frank Bialk, the white-haired night watchman–the only other man in the plant–told police that Luetgert had sent him away on an errand.

Nothing was open in the neighbourhood, so he had to go to a drugstore six blocks away. He was gone more than half an hour. “When I got back, the office door was barricaded from the inside, and I had to hand Mr. Luetgert his bottle of Hunyadi through the window.” On his return to the plant Bialk said he noticed that the boiler had been fired up and that the steam to the basement vat had been turned on. He said he asked Luetgert, who was perspiring and in his shirtsleeves, if he needed help with anything.

“It’s Just an experiment, Frank,” the sausage maker told the watchman. You can go home for the rest of the night.

Illustration by Cornwell, this one showing Luetgert in his jail cell overcome with guilt or fright. Chicago Tribune, Nov. 2, 1913.

The press gave much publicity to the mysterious disappearance and the police began a general search, even going to the extent of dragging the river for a considerable distance, but nothing was discovered.

Suspicious circumstances connected with the night Mrs. Luetgert disappeared began to leak out. Luetgert’s indifference to the search for his wife, and the fact that she had last been heard of going in the direction of the factory, led the police to search the big buildings. The first trace that led to Luetgert’s arrest was found in a big wooden vat in the basement. In several inches of reddish fluid two of Mrs. Luetgert’s finger rings were found.

In the sediment in the bottom of the vat, two gold rings, one having the initials “L. L.” engraved inside, a tooth, and two corset steels were found.

The rings were positively identified as the property of Mrs. Louise Luetgert, and in the yard where the bones from the animals were thrown, a part of a skull and other pieces of human bones were found.

It was later analyzed and discovered to be the solution of crude potash that originally must have been strong enough to have dissolved human and crumbled human bone.

Under the vat were found the partly dissolved fragments of human teeth. A more extended search under the vat and in one of the smokehouses disclosed what were afterwards identified as parts of human bones, part of which evidently some one had tried to burn.

All these bits of evidence took on a peculiar light when Luetgert’s employees, Odorfsky and Levandowsky, told of emptying the vat and scrubbing up bits of flesh and bone the second day after Mrs. Luelgert vanished.

Luetgert was arrested shortly after these discoveries and was tried for Louise’s murder. The trial became a media sensation that drew reporters from thousands of miles away.

Luetgert’s preliminary examination took place on May 22. His former friends. Mrs. Tosch and ‘Mrs. Feldt, told how he had on various occasions wished his wife were dead. Mrs. Tosch testified that he had threatened to make way with her.

One suspicious circumstance was the fact that Charles Maeder, who was with Luetgert the night Mrs. Luetgert vanished and who was supposed to know more of his doings that night than any one else, mysteriously vanished and went to Europe. Maeder refused to come back.

It was learned that during the period between May 2 and May 17 Luetgert made many efforts to gain an entrance to the factory, but was always refused admission by the sheriff’s deputies who were in charge.

On May 18, Luetgert was arrested and four days later was indicted by the grand jury.

He attempted to gain his freedom on a writ of habeas corpus but failed.

On August 7, the prosecution obtained a corpse, and placing it in the identical vat where Mrs. Luetgert’s body was destroyed, boiled it in caustic potash for two hours. At the expiration of that time, nothing remained of the fleshy parts of the body but a fluid and all of the bones, except the larger ones, were completely destroyed.

This proved that their theory was correct.

Luetgert was Indicted. The first trial lasted eight weeks. Probably no murder trial in history ever attracted such attention.

On August 24, Luetgert’s trial began before Judge Tuthill. The attorney for Luetgert claimed that he had also made a test with a corpse, but that the boiling process did not dissolve it. The contention of the defense was that no crime had been committed and that Mrs. Luetgert was not dead, but was remaining in seclusion. A letter was received by Alderman Schlake signed by “Loisa Luetgert,” in which the missing woman was represented as saying that she was then living with friends in Chicago, but it was shown that the handwriting in no manner resembled that of the missing woman and the missive was evidently sent for the purpose of confusing the authorities.

Adolph’s defense that his wife went insane and ran away, the potash was used to make soap to clean the factory, and the bones found in the factory were animal. Without a body it would be difficult to confirm that Louise was dead. So the prosecution had to prove that the potash mixture could have been used to dispose of Louise’s body and the remains found in the vat could belong to her.

The prosecution determined that the potash mixture could dissolve a human body with a demonstration. With a real human cadaver and a cauldron filled with the potash formula Luetgert allegedly used, the prosecution was able to liquify the cadaver and got the same reddish-brown fluid.  The potash would have leached the calcium from Louise’s bones and liquefied the rest of her body.

George Dorsey, anthropologist and curator of the Field Museum, and some of his colleagues analyzed bone fragments recovered from the A.L. Sausage & Packing Company. Dorsey testified that the pebble-sized pieces of bone belonged to a human female.

The Luetgert murder trial was one of the first cases in which an anthropologist was called to testify as an expert witness. Today forensic anthropologists doubt that Dorsey could have determined whether or not the tiny pieces of bone were human, much less that they belonged to a female.  Though the jury and the reporters at the trial thought Dorsey’s testimony was convincing, it was the circumstantial evidence that swayed the jury.

The Luetgert marital discord and the presence of Louise’s wedding ring in the vat were damning. And Luetgert’s defense of using 378 pounds of potash to make soap to clean the factory was ridiculous because his mixture would have made about 2000lbs of soap.  This amount would have been enough to clean the factory a few times over and was more expensive than buying the soap over the counter.

Nicholas Faber and Emma and Gottliebe Schimpke testified that they saw Luetgert enter his factory about 10 p. m. on the night of May 1 with a woman about the size of Mrs. Luetgert.

Frank Bialk, a watchman in the factory, which had been shut down since the failure, testified that on this night, Luetgert instructed him to bring down two barrels of caustic potash and place them in the boiler room, and that Luetgert then poured the contents of both barrels in one of the vats. The watchman was instructed to keep up steam all night and at 10 p. m. he was sent by Luetgert to the drug store after some nerve medicine.

When he returned, Luetgert was in the room where the vats were located and had the door locked.

Bialk furthermore testified that he resided at the home of Police Officer Klinger and that on May 6 Luetgert called on him. After concealing the officer under the bed in Bialk’s room, Luetgert was admitted to the room and in suppressed excitement asked if the officers had discovered anything at the factory. Bialk answered “No,” and Luetgert, with a show of relief, remarked: “That’s good.”

He then admonished the watchman to tell the police nothing and promised that when the factory re-opened, good positions would be provided for Bialk and his son.

Frank Odorfsky, an employee of the factory, who assisted Luetgert to put the caustic potash in the vat; testified that in all his experience in the factory he had never seen caustic potash used there before.

Mrs. Agatha Tosch, whose husband conducted a saloon opposite the factory, testified that she saw smoke coming from the factory chimney on the night of May 1, although the factory was supposed to have been shut down at the time.

She also stated that Luetgert visited her on the following day and requested her to say nothing about the smoke as it would get him in trouble.

Chas. Hengst stated that he was passing the factory about 10 p. m. on May 1, and heard a noise similar to that made by a person screaming.

Chemist Carl Voelker testified that there was no occasion for caustic potash in a sausage factory.

Mrs. Christina Feldt, a widow with whom the defendant had at one time been infatuated, testified that Luetgert often expressed his hatred for his wife and intimated that he would get rid of her.

Dr. Chas. Gibson and Professor De la Fontaine testified that the masses of soft substance which had presumably boiled over the vat was flesh that had undergone burning by potash.

Particles removed from the drain pipes leading from the vat were then produced and proven to be portions of human bones.

Luetgert handled these exhibits in the most cold-blooded manner, and demonstrated that he was devoid of all feeling.

Professor George Dorsey of the Field Columbian Museum, testified that one of the bones found in the pile of animal bones was the upper portion of the left thigh bone of a woman.

During the trial, Chas. Winthers of 250 Orleans Street, was arrested for attempting to intimidate Mrs. Tosch, the witness who saw the smoke coming from the chimney in the sausage factory on the night of May 1.

Captain Schuettler testified regarding the indifference exhibited by Luetgert as to the fate of his wife, and as to the result of his official investigations.

The defense began on September 24, and several persons testified that since May 1 they had at different places seen a woman who resembled Mrs. Luetgert.

It was the theory of the prosecution that Luetgert, tiring of his second wife, was anxious to get her out of the way so that he might marry Mary Seimmering, the family servant. On September 25, this girl testified for the defense and described Luetgert’s “kind treatment” toward his wife.

She denied having been on intimate terms with Luetgert, although members of the grand jury were subsequently produced who swore that she had told them of her improper relations with the defendant.

The defense then produced a number of experts for the purpose of offsetting the testimony given by experts for the prosecution.

William Charles, Luetgert’s business partner, testified that the caustic potash was bought for the purpose of making soft soap, as they intended to clean the factory prior to turning it over to an English syndicate.

To rebut this testimony, Deputy Sheriff Frank Moan swore that when he took possession of the place there were over 100 boxes of soap in stock, thus showing that there was sufficient on hand for cleaning purposes.

On October 18, the case was submitted to the jury and after deliberating for sixty-six hours they failed to agree, nine favoring a conviction and three voting in favor of an acquittal.

On November 29, 1897, the second trial began and Luetgert made an appeal to the public for financial assistance, but few people responded.

On January 19, 1898, the defendant took the stand in his own behalf for the first time and the police experienced great difficulty in handling the crowd.

The trial resulted in a conviction and on May 5 Luetgert was sent to the Joliet State prison for life.

Luetgert was taken away to prison, where he became a shell of his former self. He babbled incoherently to the guards, claiming that his dead wife was haunting him, intent on having her revenge, even though he was innocent of her murder.

Luetgert, possibly insane by this time, died in 1900. And he was not the only one to suffer….

His attorney, Lawrence Harmon, believed that his client was telling the truth and that he did not kill his wife. He was sure that she had simply disappeared. In fact, Harmon was so convinced of Luetgert’s innocence that she spent over $2,000 of his own money and devoted the rest of his life to finding Louisa. Eventually, he also went insane and he died in a mental institution.

At 6 a. m. on the morning of July 27, 1899, Luetgert left his cell and returned shortly afterward with his breakfast in a pail, but just as he was about to eat it, he dropped dead from heart disease.

After his death, Frank Pratt, a member of the Chicago bar, stated that he visited Joliet in February, 1898, to consult a client named Chris Merry, and being somewhat of a palmist he asked Luetgert if he wanted his “hand read.”

The latter consented and Pratt told Luetgert that he possessed a violent temper and at times was not responsible for his actions. Pratt stated that Luetgert then virtually admitted that he killed his wife when he was possessed of the devil. Pratt is quoted as saying that he regarded this admission as a professional secret and therefore did not feel at liberty to divulge it until after the death of Luetgert.

It is said that Luetgert also made similar admissions to a fellow prisoner.

There were a few urban legends that spread after the trial. The most gruesome was that Luetgert ground Louise’s body into sausage and sold it to his customers.   But the plant was not manufacturing sausage at the time of the murder so the presence of her body in the factory had nothing to do with sausage-making or accidental cannibalism. Despite this, the rumour was enough to cause sausage sales to plummet during the investigation and murder trial.

Eventually the neighborhood kids recited a rhyme about the gory tale:

Old man Luetgert made sausage out of his wife!

He turned on the steam,

His wife began to scream,

There`ll be a hot time in the old town tonight! 

There were also stories that the ghost of Louise Luetgert haunted the sausage factory. Four years after the murder trial, a watchman at the shuttered factory believed he saw Louise’s apparition and reported his paranormal experience to police.  Inexplicably, the police captain sent two detectives to investigate this phenomenon.  According to newspaper reports, these two cops were so startled when they witnessed mysterious lights and Louise’s ghost near the vat where her body was liquefied that they drew their weapons.

But Louise’s ghost seems to have found peace in the decades since because there doesn’t seem to be any experiences since the factory was converted to condominiums.

Adolph Luetgert – Wikipedia

Adolph Luetgert | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers

Adolph Luetgert and His Dissolving Wife, 1897 …

Murder by Gaslight: Louise Luetgert – The Sausage Vat Murder

THE SAUSAGE VAT MURDER – Ghosts of the Prairie

The Sausage King of Chicago: Adolph Luetgert & Louise Luetgert …

The case of the sausage vat murder and the dissolved wife – Strange …

The Sausage Factory Mystery – tribunedigital-chicagotribune

Alchemy of Bones: Debunking Myths on the Luetgert Case

February 3, 1952 – The Mystery of the Missing Wife | Chicago Tribune …

ADOLPH LUETGERT CONVICTED. — Sacramento Daily Union 10 …

In Search of Mrs. Luetgert’s Ghost | The Huffington Post

 


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